From the roads to the air
Airfreight can gain market shares from the other modes of transport by deploying unmanned flying units. This truism applies even more so when the value of the goods to be transported is very high. The Swiss post office is showing the way forward.
In summer 2015 the Swiss post office, together with the US drone manufacturer Matternet, deployed remote-controlled and unmanned flying objects in the logistics industry for the first time. Now it has taken another step forward by conducting tests for the first commercial use of the drones, in collaboration with the Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale, the association of hospitals in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino. The body runs the Ospedale Italiano and the Ospedale Civico in Lugano, the canton’s largest city. Now drones shuttle regularly between the two, rapidly and efficiently carrying laboratory samples.
About 70 autonomous flights took place between the two centres in March. The country’s civil aviation authority was involved in the project from the start, assessing safety and security aspects, defining the legal framework and finally authorising Swiss Post and Matternet’s operations in the context of its responsibility to manage Swiss airspace. The partners have been evaluating their initial insights into the project since the beginning of April, and in summer they plan to conduct another one-month test phase in the undertaking.
Once the drone meets all of the rather high requirements concerning the safety of the undertaking (3D geo-fencing is called for, as is a parachute that opens automatically in an emergency), its practicability and reliability, then there may be regular flights by the drone in the skies above Lugano. Plans are based on operations beginning in 2018.
From that period onwards trained hospital staff will operate the flying machine, which has a diameter of 80 cm, independently. The laboratory samples will be packed in a safe box, weighing approximately 2 kg with its payload. The drone will be dispatched by smartphone app. It will then fly to its destination autonomously along its pre-programmed route. The box will be received by an employee on the roof of the other hospital in the pilot project.